We have a special treat for you today! Ben McBride from Monster Popcorn and I are teaming up (as all good superheroes do, from time to time) to bring you two badass reviews for the price of one! I’ll kick it off, and Ben will follow up with his thoughts below. Enjoy!
Reactions to Man of Steel have been sharply divisive. Everyone seems to have a strikingly different reaction to the movie, based on their perception of the material and how they feel the story should be told. Regardless of your own particular feelings, it makes for a fascinating discussion.
So before I dive in, I feel like I should tell you where I’m coming from in regards to the whole Superman thing. Truth be told, I’m not really that into him. Never have been. I’m sure that makes me some sort of a raging commie and I should probably just defect and get it over with, but that’s just the way I feel.
He’s just never done it for me. He is just so fucking Good. All the time. Pure apple pie. A total boyscout. I’ve always found him to be boring. And granted, I’ve never jumped into the mythos, but on the surface, he just doesn’t seem to offer much.
I have seen most (all? not quite sure of that one) of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, but the only parts I really remember are Clark racing a train, Lois Lane talking about her underwear, and Superman making the Earth spin backwards (after this weekend, it might be time to revisit that one). I saw Bryan Singer’s take on the character in 2006 with Superman Returns and really didn’t give two shits. The only thing I remember from that one was Kevin Spacey’s plan to make gigantic rocks for a reason that I don’t even really remember.
So that’s where I’m coming to this from. A pretty standard level of cannon knowledge and a complete lack of interest.
And I have to say…I liked it. The film had some flaws, sure, and I wasn’t head over heels, but frankly, I probably never would have been. Superman just isn’t a character that I find to be terribly compelling. But this story and incarnation are the most engaged I have ever been in this property, and I found myself enjoying it.
Here’s the story: We start at the beginning with Kal-El (Henry Cavill) being born on Krypton (Krypton looks AWESOME, by the way). His birth is something of a miracle in and of itself, as the residents of Krypton have not been birthed naturally in quite some time. Each individual is genetically bred with specific designs and intentions – to be scientists, leaders, warriors, ditch diggers, etc. But Krypton is a dying planet. So in order to ensure that their son has the opportunity to live and choose to be who he wants, and to in some way ensure the survival of their species, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) send their infant son away. He crash lands in Kansas and is found by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), where he is raised here, among us, struggling with the knowledge that he is different, yet not understanding why. Years later, he is followed to Earth by General Zod (Michael Shannon), whose sole purpose in life (thanks to the genetic breeding thing), is to defend Krypton. For spoiler-y reasons that I won’t delve into here, Clark stands in the way of his plans, and must decide whether he wants to join what remains of his people, or defend the planet that has become his home. (I’m sure you can guess which option he picks)
I think Zack Snyder is a great director. He has a fantastic eye and I love the look of his films. And visually, Man of Steel was no exception. The action was a lot of fun and the scenes on Krypton were stunning. Suckerpunch proved to me that he just isn’t a great storyteller all on his own. He’s kind of a like a kid with ADHD, who can’t focus and gets overwhelmed by his thousands of ideas. He needs a strong writer who keep him tethered and to keep his story focused. Enter David Goyer and Christopher Nolan. With Goyer’s script and Nolan’s guidance, Snyder was able to shoot the kind of story that needed to be told, rather than one completely drowning in its own bloat. And while the story wasn’t perfect (it got a bit messy in the middle, and the pacing suffered as a result), it was still fun.
The biggest gripe I had with the film was the way they opted to structure the story. Rather than tell everything in chronological order, Snyder opted to give us Kal-El’s backstory in chunks inserted throughout the rest of the film. And I can totally understand why – it enabled them to tell this story that we all know while still making it feel like something we hadn’t seen before, rather than just regurgitating the same movie all over again.
The downside to this is that it left us without any character motivation in the beginning of the film, which I found to be frustratingly lazy. Five minutes into the movie, Clark is saving people off of a burning oil rig, and we have no idea why. It relies on the fact that we know he’s Superman, and that’s just what he does (even though he isn’t really Superman yet). And I understand that this character is such a part of American mythos that some of that is to be expected, but I felt like they used it as a crutch here.
And at times, things just happened a little too quickly and without adequate support. Clark first discovering and then embracing his destiny, for one. I would have liked to have had that scene stretched a bit and allowed us to see him grappling with these new revelations – his parents, the destruction of his home world, the reasons he is so different from everybody else – before finally deciding to embrace his destiny. The romance between Superman and Lois had similar issues. It sort of comes out of nowhere and isn’t really supported by anything other than “Superman and Lois are a thing – everybody knows that.”
But gripes aside, there was a lot that I found to love about this film.
I really thought that Henry Cavill was great in the title role. As spotty as Clark was in the beginning of the film, once the transition to Superman took place, Cavill was spot-on. He had the look, the voice, the delivery – I had no trouble believing he was this legendary figure.
Every scene with Kevin Costner in it was golden. He was spectacular – I wish he could have been in the entire movie. His embodiment of Jonathan Kent as Clark’s father was touching. He knows that Clark’s presence on Earth has to mean something, yet his protective nature takes over and he fears what Clark revealing the nature of himself and his powers to humanity will mean for the son that he cares about.
Michael Shannon was fantastic as Zod (but duh – he’s fantastic in everything). I loved how he conveyed both Zod’s destructive nature and his ingrained desperation to save his world. I also enjoyed Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She gave the character her trademark pluck, but managed to ground her in a realistic strength. There were a couple of scenes that she felt rather forced into, but nothing that ever really ruined her presence.
I also loved the way they took some of the classic elements from the Superman mythos and found a way to insert them into the story in a non-cheesy way. In an age where superheroes have become darker and more gritty, these are the details that sometimes struggle to find a home. But they did a good job at integrating everything. Example: His suit is a relic of Krypton – something everyone wears and that has the symbol of their house on the chest.
At the end of the day, Superman is never going to be my fave. He’s virtually indestructible and he’s the kind of hero that steps back and says “No, no, Ma’am. No need to thank me. All in a day’s work.” But even with that, I still liked this flick, and enjoyed Snyder’s take on the character. And I am excited for the next chapter in the Man of Steel story.
Now, on to Ben’s review. And remember to check out more of his stuff over at Monster Popcorn!
Movie franchise reboots are commonplace today whether we like them or not. Some of them I’m not in favor of (cough cough Amazing Spider-Man) and others offer new life into a franchise allowing for new and hopefully unexplored storylines to be presented to audiences. Superman has never been a character that I feel beholden to and a reboot of the Superman franchise was probably in order given the fact that so little of the Superman movies are actually any good (though I do love Superman III just not for the right reasons). Man of Steel takes the Superman mythos and creates a good jumping off point for future Superman movies and for the potential integration of other superheroes into the DC Comics universe.
Director Zack Snyder and writer David Goyer do an admirable job in creating a Superman origin movie that doesn’t feel like it is a slave to reiterating the material we all know about Superman in order to set up this new take on the character. The filmmakers decided to take a non-linear approach to the story allowing the events of the present to be juxtaposed against that of Clark Kent’s past, informing the audience of how Superman’s upbringing has made him who he is today. This is great in that it doesn’t front load the movie with all the familiar beats that we would expect from a linear superhero story. Unfortunately, it does affect the pacing some and makes the movie feel like it takes some time to ramp up to the fun superhero action.
The movie starts off on Krypton with Jor-El and wife Lara having given birth to Kal-El. The destruction of Krypton is imminent and the parents must send their child off to another planet in hopes of survival. This story element is not new to the Superman (movie) mythology but what becomes unexpected is that the opening of the movie stays on Krypton for a fairly significant amount of time allowing the audience to see the planet, the technology and societal roles of the Kryptonians, the animal life (well, just one animal is all I remember seeing) and much more of Jor-El than we’ve seen before. It’s some pretty fun sci-fi and could make for its own movie should they want to go back and tell the story of Superman’s father.
I was actually kind of surprised by how much sci-fi was present in Man of Steel. It’s an element of the previous Superman movies that was always kind of there but didn’t seem to take hold of the story much. I know Superman is an alien but he has never really managed to feel like an alien to me in previous movies. He’s always come off as just a superhero that happens to be from another planet but easily fits in with society. In Man of Steel, his alien origin is what makes him an outsider for much of the movie and is the reason his adopted parents, the Kents, caution him on being discovered. Clark is taught to hide that side of him because the real world would not understand him and would look at him in fear. These are all things that have been highlighted in past movies but they seem to hit home more so in Man of Steel than in any previous incarnation. When Clark is forced to reveal his identity to the world, he is met with uncertainty, skepticism and distrust. He’s only really given the chance to be trusted because the US government’s hand is forced by an overzealous General Zod. This outsider aspect to Clark is what helps give the character some relatablity and makes his acceptance of himself and rise to hero status more involving.
When Clark does embrace his destiny as Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, and dons the suit, the movie ramps up with lots of spectacular action. Snyder does an incredible job in creating awesome visuals and action that is befitting of a superhero. The fights between Zod and Superman are big and lead to massive amounts of destruction. Hell, analysts have taken a look at the movie and figured that there is about $750 billion dollars in damages made by the disastrous fights between Superman and Zod’s army. While all that destruction is fun to watch, it does start to become redundant after Superman or Zod get thrown through building after building after building. The action also ends up lacking some because the stakes aren’t as high. Throwing Superman through a building isn’t really going to affect him. He’s essentially indestructible and doesn’t easily get hurt so it’s like watching people trading empty blows.
On top of that, and more importantly, is that with all of the destruction seen on the screen (Metropolis is practically leveled in the big fight) comes tons of human deaths. Superman is all about protecting humans from Zod and his Kryptonian army but he doesn’t bat an eye as Metropolis falls to the ground around him with people inside the buildings and on the streets being crushed by falling debris. There is even a fighter earlier in the movie in Smallville where Superman tells the townspeople to get inside the buildings for safety but then partakes in destroying the town while fighting bad guys. The action is fun but it also works against the character of Superman, a protector, in these ways.
The cast of Man of Steel are all pretty strong. Henry Cavill definitely looks the part and plays a fine Superman. Michael Shannon stands out as Zod, playing him with an evil gusto that makes for a pretty strong villain. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is the tenacious reporter you’d expect but she gets to play her as a more proactive victim than in the past. Kevin Costner is excellent as Jonathan Kent and even though his screen time is minimal, he makes it count. I really enjoyed watching Russell Crowe as Jor-El and it was cool seeing Crowe partaking in the sci-fi/superhero genre in a big way.
I found Man of Steel to be mostly entertaining and a good start to a new series of Superman movies. It has its flaws and a run time that could have been managed a little more efficiently but it makes me excited to see what comes next. The problem with the Superman movies is that I feel like we haven’t really seen anything all that new. The action in Man of Steel is a large step up in terms of superheroey violence but I tire of the villains used in these movies. We’ve seen Zod before, granted this new version is a lot more interesting, and it’s inevitable that Lex Luthor, one of the staples of the Superman comic, shows up in the sequel or the film after that, but we’ve seen Luthor in just about every Superman movie to date excluding this new one. I want to see a Superman movie with a villain we have yet to see on the big screen, like Brainiac or Doomsday. I think Man of Steel succeeds in breathing new life into the Superman franchise and provides a good basis for which to improve upon. I hope they bring their A-game and knock Man of Steel 2 out of the park.